Bats are key hosts in the radiation of mammal-associated Bartonella bacteria

McKee CD, Bai Y, Webb CT, Kosoy MY

Bats are notorious reservoirs of several zoonotic diseases and may be uniquely tolerant of infection among mammals. Broad sampling has revealed the importance of bats in the diversification and spread of viruses and eukaryotes to other animal hosts. Vector-borne bacteria of the genus Bartonella are prevalent and diverse in mammals globally and recent surveys have revealed numerous Bartonella lineages in bats. We assembled a sequence database of Bartonella strains, consisting of nine genetic loci from 209 previously characterized Bartonella lineages and 121 new cultured isolates from bats, and used these data to perform a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of the Bartonella genus. This analysis included estimation of divergence dates using a molecular clock and ancestral reconstruction of host associations and geography. We estimate that Bartonella began infecting mammals 62 million years ago near the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. Additionally, the radiation of particular Bartonella clades correlate strongly to the timing of diversification and biogeography of mammalian hosts. Bats were inferred to be the ancestral hosts of all mammal-associated Bartonella and appear to be responsible for the early geographic expansion of the genus. We conclude that bats have had a deep influence on the evolutionary radiation of Bartonella bacteria and their spread to other mammalian orders. These results support a 'bat seeding' hypothesis that could explain similar evolutionary patterns in other mammalian parasite taxa. Application of such phylogenetic tools as we have used to other taxa may reveal the general importance of bats in the ancient diversification of mammalian parasites.